Cinema is not just for the sighted in Cuba, where the blind and visually impaired can also go to the movies thanks to a program called “Touching the Light.”
The initiative has furnished more than 100 films with audio descriptions that help blind audiences visualise what is happening on screen through a narrator.
“This project has allowed me to fully understand films I had previously ‘seen’ under conventional projection systems,” Havana resident and self-described movie buff Luis Ceballos, 50, told Xinhua.
Ceballos — who lost his sight at six months of age due to medical complications following a premature birth — was among the first to attend the initial screenings when the project was launched eight years ago.Since then, he has been an avid moviegoer, attending the weekly screenings in summer at one of Havana’s best known movie theatres.
During the rest of the year, those films are screened once a month.
“The most recent film we saw was the award-winning ‘Roma’ from Mexican (director) Alfonso Cuaron, which astonished me. It was an experience that marked me like a hot iron,” he said. “It stirred me deep because it analyses a series of issues about human behaviour,” he said.
After “watching” the award-winning Cuban classic “Memories of Underdevelopment” accompanied by an audio description, he identified so much with the main character that it became his favourite movie.
“The audio description has enriched the inner and personal vision I had of many films. It has been a wonderful experience to be able to touch the light, to be in contact with the world of cinema that I have had references to since my childhood,” said Ceballos, who works at the cultural and recreational centre of Cuba’s National Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired (ANCI).
Emilia Munoz, president of the ANCI chapter in the southern Havana district of Guanabacoa, gradually lost her central vision starting at the age of 16 as a result of a congenital ailment, and had to abandon one of her favorite pastimes — going to the movies.
For her, the project offers the visually impaired the opportunity to relive the experience of going to the movies after frequently doing so during their childhood and teenage years.
“I liked to go to the movies, see the big screens, (and) the atmosphere in the theater. (The initiative) was something I wished for because I went many years without visiting one because of my illness,” she said.
“This is a very human project because the smallest details, like a sign, a gesture, a car that goes by on the road that we can’t see, with the audio description we know what happens. It is the complement to understanding the plot of the film,” she said.
Since 2011, more than 6,500 blind and visually impaired Cubans in Havana have attended screenings of 110 films adapted with the audio description system.
Jorge Alberto Gonzalez, a professional of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), organized the first narrated screening of a movie in Cuba some 15 years ago.
“I love watching films and movies. I believe that it can help people grow and raise their cultural level, and I thought it was very good for people with disabilities to have the opportunity to socialize, get together, meet and have topics to talk about,” said Gonzalez.
Impressed by the reactions he got from that first screening, he decided to set up the program and make it permanent.
“I think it is important not only to look forward, but also to the sides, and that’s where the blind and visually impaired people are,” he said.
The project is sponsored by ANCI, ICAIC and most recently the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, which took on the task of writing and producing the audio descriptions.
Since last year, the initiative has expanded to other parts of the country, with similar movie clubs holding screenings in eastern provinces.